14 September 1999

The following is the text of the Muslim Council of Britain’s letter to the Foreign Secretary, drawing attention to the concern faced by British Muslims on the future of the holy city, and calling for a British Government-led initiative in the European Union

“Dear Secretary of State,

With the onset of the US Presidential campaign, moves are once more afoot to surreptitiously alter the status of Jerusalem. The British Government is not unaware of Muslims’ apprehension on Jerusalem. In February this year, the late Derek Fatchett, Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, provided a public assurance that the Government “consider[s] East Jerusalem to be under illegal military occupation. We recognise no de jure [Israeli] sovereignty over the city”. British Muslims now look to the Government to provide resolute and pro-active international leadership on the issue, to prevent a matter of civilisational importance being decided by the cynical electoral stratagems of ambitious politicians seeking entry to Capital Hill or the White House by pandering to the Zionist vote to secure the funding tied to it. The MCB believes that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office should marshal its diplomatic strengths, and through the EU particularly, ensure that the status of Jerusalem is not altered. The British Government should further ensure that no EU country should relocate its embassy to Jerusalem. It should also dissuade the US from doing so out of unprincipled opportunism.

The MCB welcomed the Labour Government’s commitment to an ethical foreign policy when this was announced and sees the status of Jerusalem as its litmus test. The Government is no doubt aware that Jerusalem is al-Quds ash-Sharif – the Holy and Noble City. It is one of three most holy cities of Islam (the others being Makkah and Madinah). The city’s best known monuments, the Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, are of Islamic origin, and the area between these two is known as al-Haram ash-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary.

An International Commission in 1930 confirmed the Islamic ownership of the Western (Wailing) Wall and the land in front of it – the Jews had only the customary right of access to it for devotion – in a report that was ratified by Britain and the League of Nations. By 1948 an armistice had left the old city in the Jordanian sector and the rest in the Israeli sector. The Jordanian sector was invaded by Israel in June 1967 and the Jordanian forces retired before superior force out of respect for the holiness of the city. Within days the land in front of the Western Wall, an inalienable Islamic religious bequest, was seized by Israel.

On 5 July 1967 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution by a majority of 99, with 20 abstentions, which declared Israel’s measures in Jerusalem as invalid. When this resolution was ignored, another was passed on 12 July, viewing with great concern Israel’s neglect to comply, repeating the previous call, and asking Israel to refrain from taking any measures for changing the status of Jerusalem. There were no votes against either resolution. The two resolutions by the General Assembly adopted in July 1967 were buttressed by a similar one taken by the Security Council on 21 May 1968. Following the attempted arson and burning of part of the Aqsa Mosque in August 1969, the Security Council passed a third resolution in which it condemned Israel for failure to comply with UN resolutions.

Jerusalem is a holy city to the adherents of three religions but the tradition of religious tolerance was mainly preserved under Muslim sovereignty. The Israeli rule so far has been overbearing and marred by storm-troop tactics in its treatment of worshippers. These are not exclusive Muslim concerns. The recent decision by the Jerusalem municipality to remove crucifixes from a commemoration coin is an example of the measures that are changing the religious character of the city.

The Foreign Secretary probably recalls that he was deprived of dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his last visit to the region, after he insisted on visiting Jabal Abu Ghoneim where the Israeli government is building settlements on occupied territory. This is the shape of things to come if nothing is done for Jerusalem. A foreign policy that draws on principle and respect for international convention should not allow an occupying power to get away with illegally annexing Jerusalem as its ‘eternal and undivided capital’.

Yours sincerely

Iqbal Sacranie

Secretary General 10th September 1999

Notes for Editors
Jerusalem – its place in Islam and Arab History, by Dr A. L. Tibawi,
The Islamic Quarterly, December 1968, The Islamic Cultural Centre, London.